Hot Button

angry woman pointing her finger

What’s your “hot button”?

That’s the thing that someone can say or do that triggers the old part your human brain making you feel unsafe, as though your were personally being attacked.

Your reaction is immediate. Notice the word: “re-action”. It’s something that you’ve done many times before, rather than using the thinking and reasoning part of your brain that would have you using rational and considered thought before taking action.

The problem with re-action is it is not necessarily specific to this particular hot button, and oftentimes your response is out of proportion to the trigger. A comment that triggers your anger can be from an old hurt, childhood memories or even trauma that are stored in your subconscious mind.

It can be a response (there’s that “re-“ again) that you’ve used for years; and it’s probably not effective because you still have that hot button! Furthermore, your reaction can be damaging to your own health by initiating a stress response and releasing cortisol, the stress hormone.

How can you deal more effectively when someone pushes your hot button? Preparing ahead of time is generally the best way. It’s important to understand that this is an opportunity for self-growth and transformation.

First, consider this:

When you are ANGRY 3 things are generally true:

  1. There’s something that you want that you’re not getting (or the opposite)- there’s something you’re getting that you don’t want.
  2. You tell yourself that someone SHOULD be giving this to you (or the opposite)- that someone should know better and not be doing this to you
  3. You are about to speak or act in a way that will virtually assure that you won’t get what you want!

Instead, here’s a way to start seeing the situation in a different light, and acting in a way that won’t trigger your stress response, and end up making YOU feel bad!

  1. Pull back from your reaction, and become an observer- like a witness of your own feelings and thoughts.
  2. Put a “Mona Lisa” smile on your face, count to 10 and slow your breathing, in and out through your nose. (this engages your “relax” response, instead of the stress response)
  3. Realize that whatever was said is a reflection of the other person’s opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. It doesn’t mean you have to change their thoughts or yours!
  4. Consider whether it’s worth your response to try and change another person’s opinion or even to defend yourself. (In the majority of cases, most people will not change their opinion)
  5. Formulate a response using “I” to begin your sentence… “I can see how you feel that way, and I have a different way of seeing the situation”.
  6. OR- say “I’ll talk about this at another time”. Use the space to consider the reasons you are angry (see first list above).

Most important is that any action you take is from a calm, rational space. You’ll feel better in your mind and body. And acting within these parameters will increase the probability that you won’t be saying, “I’m sorry” later on!

If you are having difficulty with anger and communication issues, read Marshall Rosenberg’s book: Compassionate Communication. It’s a wonderful practice where communication skills taught by Rosenberg that has enabled Palestinians and Israeli’s to sit down and talk together!